Lynn O’Kane wasn’t raised to paddle. “Before I met my husband, my big trip was from the front door to the mailbox,” O’Kane says. Not long after that, when O’Kane’s father saw a photo of her on a portage trail, with a pack on her back, paddles in one hand, and fishing rods in the other, he said, “That’s not my daughter.”
O’Kane left Chicago and has lived in Ely, Minnesota for 32 years, the doorstep of Minnesota’s canoe country, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. She and her husband John own Voyageur North Outfitters. They have owned thousands of canoes and paddled hundreds of them, overseeing an ever-evolving fleet. They’ve field tested countless canoes to determine what works best on the tannin-stained waters and the granite shores of the Canadian Shield. Her favorite ride is Wenonah’s Minnesota II, an 18.5” canoe with a 33.5” gunwale width, 13.5” of center depth, and zero rocker. It comes in Tuff-weave, Kevlar Flex-Core, Kevlar Ultra-light, and Graphite Ultra-light. O’Kane prefers the latter two models, which both weight 42 pounds.
Why Wenonah’s Minnesota II?
“It’s a fast boat. Being long, it has the capacity to carry more and cut through the water faster. It has lower sides, so it gets hit by the wind less. To be frank, what I like about the MN II is what some people don’t like. I like the contoured fiberglass seats, but some people don’t like those. The seat has height on the back, so you have a little support on your butt, which supports your back. Plus, as I’m drawing the paddle, I stay in place. I’m not going anywhere with that seat. A flat seat hits the back of my legs. The front seat also slides. You can put it real close to the bow, so that when we’re in heavy waves or wind, I can really dig and paddle hard. If we’re paddling at a more leisurely pace I can put it part way back, and if we’re fishing, I can put it all the way back to stretch and be comfortable. Being a woman, my center of gravity is my butt. More of my weight is in the bottom of the canoe. So, I become the keel and feel more stable. The Winona has lower seats because the sides are lower and I don’t have to stretch as far to reach the water. It turns great. We fish for smallmouth and you need a stable canoe to fish for smallmouth because of their aerobatics. We have no problem in the MN II. When you first paddle it, with no keel and a narrow bottom, it can feel tippy, but it has great secondary stability.
Did you have an epiphany about this canoe?
“I didn’t have an epiphany when I was in the boat. I had the epiphany when I was paddling a different boat and I felt like I was paddling a two by four. I didn’t have the Minnesota II’s glide in that other canoe. I felt like it was taking more energy to travel that same distance.”
Where has this canoe taken you?
“I’ve been on nearly all the routes in the Boundary Waters, but I remember one trip in particular, to Lac La Croix in the Boundary Waters. It’s very big water, but we had no problem. It’s a great canoe on big water, small water, coming down rivers, and is great on the portages because of its balance.”
Have you modified it?
We changed the yoke pads to something plusher.
Wenonah Minnesota II
Overall Length: 18′ 6″ (563.88cm)
Gunwale Width: 33.5″ (85.09cm)
Maximum Width: 35″ (88.9cm)
Waterline Width: 33.5″ (85.09cm)
Stern Depth: 17″ (43.18cm)
Center Depth: 13.5″ (34.29cm)
Bow Depth: 20.5″ (52.07cm)